Study Guide

Guert Affenlight in The Art of Fielding

By Chad Harbach

Guert Affenlight

Affenlight Casts Four Shadows

Guert Affenlight, Pella's father, is the Westish College president who engages in a relationship with a male student almost forty years his junior—and then dies.

We're not sure how to pronounce Guert (Gert? Gwert? Bob?) but we have to wonder if it means "foreshadowing" in whatever heritage he is. It's difficult to see Guert among all the foreshadows he casts early on.

His office is decorated with two signs—"NO SUICIDES PERMITTED HERE" (7.2) and "NO SMOKING IN THE PARLOR" (7.2). And, although Guert doesn't commit suicide by jumping off a building or shooting himself or taking pills, he pretty much kills himself with his smoking. He must have missed the page after page about his family's history of heart disease and all the little bits of wordplay that served as big neon arrows pointing their way toward death, like: "Perhaps, he thought, with a touch of melodrama, this whole thing was merely an old man's last gasp" (8.35). This line pretty much sums up Guert's final months. It's melodramatic, and a "last gasp," because the stress of the relationship with Owen (and the smoking; just say no!) ends up killing him.

Sperm Squeezer

The Sperm-Squeezers isn't just the title of the book Guert wrote about Herman Melville, it's also a thinly-veiled reference to what he and Owen get up to behind closed doors. For sixty years he hasn't had a gay bone in his body—"Entangling with a male student had never crossed his mind" (9.54)—but then Owen comes along (pun intended, as this pun is used so many times in the book that we lost count) and Guert can't wait to entangle appendages with him.

There's a lot of conflict here. We have the age difference. We have the fact that Guert is a college president and Owen is a student—Guert once thought of his daughter's husband as a "borderline pedophile" (39.1) but, since the age difference between himself and Owen is almost four times the size, his "moral indignation had cooled recently" (39.2). Finally, we have Guert's sexuality. Is he heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or just Owensexual?

None of this conflict is resolved because the school's board of trustees catches Guert, and then he literally curls up and dies. Besides Henry and his own brain, and Pella and dishes, the biggest conflict in this novel is whether or not Owen and Guert's relationship will survive. It doesn't, because Guert doesn't, and we never find out how the consequences of being caught may have affected them.